The pianist Paul Wittgenstein started commissioning new works in the late 1910s from the likes of Britten, Strauss and Prokofiev for left-handed piano music because the First-World-War-induced amputation of his right arm left him with a seriously curtailed performing repertoire. More commonly, the compositional device is used to develop a strategy through a delimiting of possibilities, in the same way that visual artists may set themselves pre-determined rules or an author may embark on a constrained-writing novel.
Robert Mitchell, the established and versatile jazz pianist, has now also put his (left) hand to it. His latest album The Glimpse is an entirely leftist affair and the first three tracks of this performance all came from it, two of his compositions which preceded Frederico Mompou's Prelude no. 6. It was this last piece, plucked from the genre's archive, that suggested most what the limiting device could offer in testing and opening up areas of composition which I found somewhat lacking in Mitchell's own two offerings. Whereas Mompou's had pace, pause and a melancholic subtlety in volume, Mitchell's relied on staccato rolling scales punctuated by dissonant chords which quickly became tiresome. There were moments when Cageian repeating motifs were introduced and the potential for something was developing, but it soon descended back to the same formula as before.
For the remaining three songs of his set he brought onto stage Eska, a vocalist who has appeared on three Mercury-nominated albums. Her collaborations with Mitchell go back decades and there is a genuine symbiosis between the two performers. Eska clearly has a powerful and rich voice, but this performance was predominantly a non-verbal one and continually reminded me of vocal exercises, including slightly nauseating high-pitched reaches. This was a shame as she undoubtedly has a rich voice and one which I'd love to hear normally, but in this mode I found it rather difficult listening.
Whirlwind Recordings have perhaps taken their name from the speed at which they release albums, averaging about 10 releases a year since their inception, and following the relaxing pause of the interval was another album launch with the Romain Pilon Quartet playing tracks from their new release Colorfield. The original "color field" was a mid 20th-century abstract painting movement with less emphasis on gesture and brushwork and more on overall process and consistency. It seems a well chosen title for a quartet who seamlessly work for each other and provide a layered but even layering of sound, even despite the saxophonist on the album, Walter Smith III, being replaced with Logan Richardson for this live offering.
In places the music headed towards the "smooth" and slightly smug end of the spectrum, but whenever this happened some component tended to hold the piece back and keep it away from straying too much into the indulgent territory. In Man on wire this was the sultry 40s quality of Michael Janisch's double bass – he played his instrument with the dexterity of a flamenco guitarist – and in other instances it was the drum arrangement which pulled it back to something more experimental.
It was indeed the drumming in this quartet which stood out the most. At 26, Gautier Garrigue was the youngest on stage and has a future ahead of him which will be well worth following. Throughout he provided a compelling rhythm, not least in the runaway-train speed of Seventh hour, and he showed great craft in his drum solos when given the space to stretch.
The acoustics of Kings Place's Hall One are perfect for this stratified music: each instrument can be crisply picked out. It also allows for a clean reading of the drifting in emphasis between instruments, which here was a smoother, more nuanced affair than the more common obvious handover of lead responsibilities. Touches like this and the way the quartet seamlessly interact with one another to keep a controlled soundscape without a dominating solo burst suggest a fertile future: if you get the chance to see them, do.